Top 10 stories on Okinawa 2008
1. Liberty restrictionsNew liberty restrictions and a curfew are enacted Feb. 20 for Okinawa bases, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and Camp Fuji following several alcohol-related incidents involving Americans. All SOFA personnel and their families are restricted to the bases or their off-base homes unless they have letters of exemption from their command.
U.S. Forces Japan commander Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright orders a "Day of Reflection" for all troops in Japan and forms a special Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Task Force. On March 3 the restrictions on Okinawa are eased, but a 10 p.m. -to-5 a.m. curfew remains in effect and off-base consumption of alcohol is banned. On April 4, the alcohol ban is lifted, but Cinderella Liberty lasts until September.
2. Deadly year for Okinawa MarinesFive Marines are killed during deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan: Cpl. Christian S. Cotner, 20, is killed May 29 in Iraq’s Anbar province; Sgt. Michael H.Ferschke (below), 22, is killed Aug. 10 near Baghdad; Capt. Jesse Melton III (bottom), 29, and 1st Lt. Nicholas Madrazo (left), 25, are killed Sept. 9 in Parwan province, Afghanistan; Capt. Warren A. Frank, 26, is killed Nov. 25 in Iraq’s Ninevah province.
3. Case of Marine convicted of raping 14-year-old Okinawa girl sparks protests on islandMarine Staff Sgt. Tyrone Hadnott, 38, is arrested Feb. 10 by Japanese police on suspicion of raping a 14-year-old Okinawa girl. The case sparks protests by Okinawans. U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer, USFJ Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, and Marine Lt. Richard Zilmer, commander of Marine Corps Bases Japan, meet with Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima in Naha to express their concern. All Marines in Japan are ordered to "stand down" for ethics and leadership training. On Feb. 28 Hadnott is released from Japanese custody after the girl drops her criminal complaint. Marines proceed with the investigation and Hadnott is convicted by a court-martial in May and sentenced to 48 months for molesting the teen. He is also dishonorably discharged, ending his 18-year military career.
4. AAFES gas pricesAfter months of consumer complaints, on Nov. 28 the Army and Air Force Exchange Service finally drops its price for midgrade unleaded gas on bases in Japan and Okinawa for the first time since it hit $4.06 per gallon in July. The price for a gallon of midgrade unleaded plummets to $2.43, a $1.63 decrease. The 40 percent reduction still leaves prices far higher than the $2.03 average cost at the time for midgrade unleaded in the United States.
5. Post-allowance back payThe Defense Department announces a plan in August to compensate overseas employees who were not paid post allowance, and says they can begin making claims for back pay. The retroactive pay dates to Dec. 1, 2001, because back pay cannot exceed a six-year statute of limitations on claims against the government. Worldwide, roughly 2,850 NAF employees, and an unknown number of former workers, are expected to be eligible for at least some compensation. DOD estimates the back pay could cost employers $68 million.
6. Patriot Express keeps travelers guessingATA Airlines shuts down operations and files for bankruptcy on April 3, which leads to a temporary halt of the Patriot Express. The following week, Northwest Airlines steps up as a new carrier with an Airbus 330 to continue the mission linking Seattle-Tacoma International Airport with Yokota and Kadena air bases. The U.S. military’s only chartered commercial air service in the Pacific goes to a biweekly route in July before resuming weekly flights in October.
7. Futenma Relocation ProjectThe Okinawa Prefectural Assembly passes a resolution July 18 against the Futenma Relocation Project. It urges the U.S. and Japan to scrap plans for a new air facility on Camp Schwab to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. The project is considered key to a 2006 bilateral agreement to realign U.S. troops in Japan, eventually closing several bases on Okinawa and moving some 8,000 Marines and their families to Guam by 2014. In November the assembly speaker says he is hopeful President-elect Barack Obama’s administration will abandon the relocation project.
8. HEART ActPresident Bush signs the HEART Act on June 17, fixing a legal snafu that denied the 2008 tax stimulus payments to U.S. servicemembers if any of their family members did not have a taxpayer identification number.
9. Marine Corps debuts new Combat Fitness TestMarines preview the Corps’ new Combat Fitness Test at a demonstration Sept. 16 on Camp Foster. The test is designed to measure endurance and has tasks similar to those Marines must perform in combat, such as lifting ammunition cans and carrying other Marines through the course. The test is phased in throughout the Marine Corps starting Oct. 1.
10. Kadena F-15s resume flightsKadena Air Base’s F-15 Eagle combat jets resume flight operations Jan. 13 after being grounded since November following the crash of a Missouri National Guard F-15C. An Air Force fleetwide investigation found that nine F-15s had cracks in their fuselage. Two of them were based at Kadena.